In one split second my brain went from
“that’s a funny name for a girl”
to “I don’t think he’s talking about a girl”
to “I think he’s telling me that he’s gay”
to “I guess love is all the same.”
In that unforgettable moment, I had received a precious gift of Rick’s loving listening to me and then his courageous sharing with me about his former boyfriend named Todd. He was coming out to me as gay (which no one had ever done before). And, fortunately, with Rick’s help, I had the sense to know in a flash that this was totally OK, that his same gender love was the same as my opposite gender love. Love is love.
I share this story to lift up Rick, his struggle and courage and the struggle and courage of all those people who are same gender loving or transgender or who just don’t conform to old gender expectations. Like me, Rick was one who grew up in the United Methodist Church (UMC). Rick’s father was a UMC pastor and we had met at a UMC summer camp.
I knew then as I know now that there were and are troubled waters in the UMC, that there was and is a troubling and painful proclamation that LGBTQ persons are not affirmed as fully as straight persons. It was one chief reason for my leaving the UMC in 1995. But I am not the hero. Rick is. And all the LGBTQ communities who have held together and somehow maintained hope. And any other person and community who have had the wisdom and courage to swim in these kinds of currents and still know God’s profound, unbounded, and equal love for them.
Just recently, representatives of the 12 million global UMC members chose to continue an official stance of condemnation of LGBTQ persons. They cannot be clergy and their lives are questioned by UMC doctrine. In some sense, nothing has changed for the UMC. They simply refused to move forward. Many of my old seminary classmates will continue to fight for change as they have been and many LGBTQ people will continue to suffer (and even die) as a result of this proclamation.
That invisible, unknown water is what we are born into, cultural and familial. It is so encompassing and implicit that we don’t know it’s there. Now while many UMC members in the USA and in Africa may have been explicitly taught by their church that not being straight or gender conforming is wrong or less than, what they have not seen is the deeply implicit message that keeping this kind of categorical order is how such societies believe they are preserved from disintegration and chaos (see Mary Douglas’ seminal book Purity and Danger). This ‘invisible water’ in which traditional societies swim implicitly enshrines as Divinely ordained the traditional core categories of that culture. When such a society is under pressure, changes in such categories are seen as threats to order and a form of dangerous destabilizing impurity. (Surely, we remember all those who claimed gay marriage would spell the disintegration of the nation and everything would fall apart. Hmmm…still waiting.)
Of course, order is not all a bad thing nor are traditional societies, but this is the shadow side: a rigid, dominating, fearful resistance to the beauty of diversity and the gifts of evolution. And the missionary colonial form of the Gospel taken to Africa by the UMC (and others) has troubled and poisoned the waters of church life in just this way. The liberating Gospel of God in Christ Jesus is coopted by the empire to enforce an agenda of static conformity, a Pax Romana of faith, leaving in its wake a devastation of ‘othered’ lives.
I need to take a deep breath here.
Breathing consciously helps me find center and to really feel my feelings, to feel them deep enough to have them touch my center and move through to a place where there can be integration and creative response.
To all of those faithful Christians who are LGBTQ I say, I see you. I’m sorry for messages you have received and for any way I have been complicit or we the church have been complicit. You are loved and blessed extravagantly by God. You are welcomed by University Church enthusiastically!
To those of us in Open and Affirming UCC congregations, I say, let us not be too proud or haughty in this sad moment for the UMC, but rather let us continue to seek healing and justice, and to continue exploring what troubled waters we swim in that are yet unseen and unknown to us, troubled waters of ours that are stopping the flow of God’s Love and the blessings of Creation’s Life.